Friday 27 April 2007

The Lore of the Logs

Hard to believe that this time yesterday I was sitting on the bench outside the house, basking in the sun. For today is damp, turning the hillside opposite fuzzy and indistinct. But yesterday was glorious – a true spring day bursting out of itself, not knowing what to do with all that pent-up energy. Adrian was strimming the steep bank below the house and making a huge meal out of it, harrumping and making loud grunting noises, doubtless hoping for sympathy. None forthcoming: it was his own fault. If he hadn’t been so slipshod in his mowing last year (having made the fatal mistake of slipping into complacency over our supposedly imminent move), he wouldn’t be in such a pickle now, the proud owner of vast tracts of thick tufty grass interspersed with blobs of springy moss. I resist saying those three hugely satisfying three words: Told. You. So.

James and I went foraging for firewood, to deprive him of his audience. Feeling a bit lazy, we struck out behind the house, where a long outgrown beech hedge provides easy pickings. I love woodgathering. It takes me back to happy childhood Guide camps, carting an old tarp into nearby woods and gathering the means to cook our supper.

I am teaching James the trade. How to pick out little bits of dried bracken and fern, a few beech nuts to pop into an old tobacco tin for ‘punk’ (to start the fire). As Guides we were supposed to be able to do it with just three matches - no paper and certainly no firelighters – sometimes I show off and do it like that still – it just takes patience (a rare commodity nowadays).
How to tell green wood from dead. How to leave the old mossy logs well alone as they’re already doing a good job providing a home for the insects which, in turn, become food for the birds, foxes, badgers, hedgehogs. How to say thank-you and leave a little present for the woodland elves (OK this is fanciful, but again a childhood habit – a circle of beech-nuts will do, or a teeny tiny posy of wild flowers tied with grass).
I give him the lore of the logs as well….well, the relevant bits for the day’s work.
‘Beechwood fires are bright and clear
If the logs are kept a year…’
He brings me a bit of birch and looks challengingly:
‘Birch and fir logs burn too fast,
Blaze up bright but do not last.’ Ta-da! He thinks I make it up on the spot.

It feels a little like edging into the wild wood, into occupied territory. The combe behind us provides an eerie echo, so it sounds as if someone’s footsteps (a troll, ogre, big bad wolf?) are following us. We delight in spooking ourselves silly.

As we came down, we spotted some late snowdrops, surprisingly tall and pristine on the bank. Back on home ground, on the ‘garden’ slope James noticed the first wild daffodils, poking up, a flash of yellow ready to burst into action – yet paler than the brazen hussies you usually see, smaller, more perfect. A remnant of a simpler world.

Asbo didn’t come with us, but stayed behind to watch Adrian and nurse a hurt paw. ‘Karma for LS,’ muttered Adrian, pausing for a drink.

James and I played penalty shoot-outs for a bit (apparently I’m developing a good curling technique) before going in and lighting our fire in an attempt to get the house temperature up to volcanic levels for the arrival of my mother and sister for lunch.

Mum’s pursuit of size zero at age eighty-two is irritating. It leaves her prone to the cold so we have to crank up the heating and strip off to our underwear to prevent unseemly sweating on our part (no, not seriously – but certainly t-shirts or sundresses). They arrived late – about forty minutes late – because apparently Bonnie, her geriatric Border collie, hadn’t wanted to get into the car (‘She didn’t like the water’ – water runs down the edges of the road in Bampton). We managed to get Mum into the house (a stately but incredibly slow progress - sometimes I think it would be easier just to sling her over my shoulder). Bonnie got gingerly out and proceeded to have a week’s worth of craps all over the drive (Jack giving her impressed looks).
Settled Mum by the fire with a vat of Bailey’s and fended off the usual questions. ‘That tapestry looks nice there. When did you put it up?’ Hmm, about three years ago, Mum. But really, it was fine. We had a heated debate about identity cards but we managed to change the subject before it got too nasty. I showed Viv the blogging website and she thought it was fabulous. ‘I could get into that,’ she said, ‘But I hate the country! Is there one like it for Urban Living?’
‘I dunno,’ I said, ‘But I’ll ask all my new friends.’

As they left, tooting down the drive, that sort of ‘end of weekend’ feeling hit the house. It had been lovely, a perfect weekend, the right mix of sociability and solitude. Now Monday morning is here, suitably drab and businesslike. Nose to the grindstone.

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